O’Brien intending to make an impact in Australia – and not off the bench
Although picked to tour Leinster backrow has no intention of being a tourist
Sean O’Brien at yesterday’s Leinster press conference: “It would be my view to start and that’s what I’ll be hoping for.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Seán O’Brien sits straight with his arms folded, even his resting flex testing the stitching of his Leinster shirt. The Tullow tank in neutral.
O’Brien looks bad ass and now when you might expect some mewing and heartfelt thanks to Warren Gatland, he’s chewing over how to shift Warburton, Heaslip, Faletau, Tipuric, Croft. It doesn’t matter. Anybody Gatland places in his way it is his legitamite right now to step over or stand on them. It’s Lion eat Lion.
Being named on the squad is part of a journey that is only just beginning. No tourist now and no tourist in Australia this year, O’Brien’s thanks are going to have to wait. He didn’t watch the Lions announcement on television.
Instead he was out visiting a school near home, a text from a friend telling him that the first part of the summer jigsaw had fallen into place.
For all of his compact, physical menace and the neatly packed explosive power O’Brien brings to a match, he also applies a chess master’s logic to a path fraught with danger. For himself, Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and the rest there are 10 matches before the first Test kicks off against Australia.
“I’m going to back myself against whoever is out there and that’s always been the way I’ve been taught,” he says. “I’m not going to say, ‘oh I can’t play eight because the two lads are there (Heaslip, Faletau)’, so obviously there are options there all over the place.
“Obviously Sam (Warburton) is captain but I think in any tour if someone isn’t performing or picks up a knock there are obviously opportunities. I have to put myself in the best possible position so that if that role pops up then I’m ready to go into it.
“There is six and seven. There are options there all over the place. I’ll be pretty determined to go about my business over there and try and make the Test side.”
Leinster play Ospreys tomorrow and will have a semi-final in the Pro12 and perhaps a final as well as a Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais.
When the Lions squad arrive in Hong Kong they play against the Barbarians before five matches in Australia. Western Force, Queensland Reds, NSW Old Country, Waratahs and ACT Brumbies are all lining up to have a crack at them, a softening up process born, you would guess, more out of a grand empire’s delusions of superiority than a 21st century schedule. An epic of another era.
Rugby’s Tour de France
It’s rugby’s very own Tour de France and the squad, as Gatland has picked it, is almost mythical. Tomás O’Leary, Jerry Flannery and Alan Quinlan will all testify to sport’s lack of romance. They fell foul of injuries and the laws of the game respectively before the plane even took off for South Africa four years ago.
“Yeah I think when you look back on the last Lions tour, that’s where most of the lads picked up knocks, the first couple of weeks – trying to cement their places and get involved, and make sure they were working hard,” explains O’Brien.
“So that will be no different this year, I can assure you. Lads will want to be on the Test side and will want to do as well as they possibly can to be there.
“As I’ve said already, we’ll see when we get out there what way it works and anything can happen. I’m saying at the minute that I can play all three positions and that’s the way I’m going to stay.”
O’Brien played at number eight for Ireland against Italy a few years ago, while Leinster see him as more of a ball carrier than Heaslip.
Last week against Biarritz Joe Schmidt said as much. Heaslip’s profile rose because he was running the lines the injured O’Brien normally takes. While the Irish captain did it wonderfully, O’Brien may want them back. For the Lions he could be the perfect impact replacement. To that he bridles
“It wouldn’t be my view to be an impact player,” he declares as if his point was uncertain. “No, it would be my view to start and that’s what I’ll be hoping for.”
Refreshingly crystal clear.